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The Sports Daily > Burning River Baseball
This Is Next Year: Lynchburg Hillcats Clinch Second Half Division Title (Too)

AAA Columbus

by Gavin Potter

The Clippers’ playoff chances took a real hit last week, as they went just 2-5, including two losses against Indianapolis, who now sit three games ahead of Columbus in the International League Western Division.

Ronny Rodriguez has continued his strong year, and is an intriguing candidate for Cleveland to use in a potential utility role. Last week, we hit 6-20 with two doubles, albeit without any walks. He’s struck out over four times for every time he’s walked this season, and his unwillingness to walk in his biggest detriment at this point.

Adam Plutko put together his third consecutive strong start on Tuesday, going 5.1 innings and only allowing one run, although he allowed ten baserunners in that span. Still, he’s allowed a 2.37 ERA over his last 19 innings.

Columbus is only three games back of Indianapolis, and has a chance to cut that to two games on Sunday. After, they’ll close out the regular season with eight games at home against Toledo and Louisville.

AA Akron

by Jay Alan

After being as close as 2.5 games behind the Bowie Baysox for the second playoff spot less than two weeks ago, the Akron RubberDucks have managed to play their way out of the post season race. The Ducks have lost their last five, and are 1-9 in their last 10 to now find themselves in fourth of six in the Eastern League West. With just over a week left in the season Akron is now five full games behind Bowie (68-63). Of the nine remaining games of the 2017 campaign, four are against the Harrisburg Senators (57-74), and five against the Erie SeaWolves (64-67). The last two teams on the schedule are very beatable, so it is not impossible for Akron to make a run, but a lot of things would have to go right for the Ducks, and wrong for Bowie.

There was some good news from the RubberDucks’ most recent abysmal 10-game stretch. Catcher/Designated Hitter Eric Haase hit his record 26th home run of the year, just a season after being named the 2016 Eastern League Playoff MVP for the Eastern League Champion RubberDucks. Haase and top Indians prospect Francisco Mejia were both named to the season ending 2017 Eastern League All-Star team. Haase’s offensive numbers this year have been off the charts. Haase is hitting .259 (81-for-313) with 15 doubles, five triples, 26 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 56 runs scored in 90 games for the RubberDucks this season while splitting time between catcher and designated hitter. Eric currently leads the league in slugging percentage (.588) and OPS (.941) and he is also ranked among the league leaders in home runs (26-2nd), triples (5-tied 3rd), extra-base hits (46-tied 5th), and total bases (184-tied 10th).

In his first season in Akron, Mejia was voted as the “Best Batting Prospect”, “Best Defensive Catcher”, and “Most Exciting Player” in the Eastern League this season in Baseball America’s Best Tools rankings. He hit .302 (6h best in the Eastern League) with 13 HR, 49 RBI, and 49 R. His .852 OPS is good for 5th best in the league, while his .478 SLG % is 7th. With both Haase and Mejia both playing so well, and both being catchers, the Indians will have some interesting decisions to make. Mejia is the top all around prospect in the organization, while Haase is breaking records with his offensive abilities and power

Advanced-A Lynchburg

by Justin Lada

The Hillcats locked up the second half division title and did so in the first half as well. They went 4-2 this week and they won 3-2 on Friday with another fantastic start from Triston McKenzie (6 IP, 1H, 1ER, 1BB, 11K). That two start stretch at the end of July/beginning of August where he allowed 13 runs is looking like a blip. In four starts since, McKenzie has thrown 22 1/3 innings, allowed eight runs (five in one start, one in each of the other three), stuck out 34 and walked just four.

Aaron Civale turned in another great outing as well (7IP, 6K, 1BB, 1ER). He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his last five starts. Dominic DeMasi also hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his last seven starts. He allowed two in 5 2/3 innings in another win this week.

Lynchburg started the week with a strong offensive showing, an 8-7 win over Salem. Sicnarf Loopstok hit his 17th homer of the year. Andrew Calica continued his recent torrid stretch with an RBI hit. He’s hitting .346 in August with a 1.052 OPS. He’s got an .895 OPS in the second half overall after a .685 OPS in the first half and the expectation he was plenty ready for the level.

The Hillcats have one more home stand before the playoffs which starts Tuesday after they wrap up a road trip at Down East. They finished the season on the road after that last home stand.

Low-A Lake County

by Justin Lada

It was another rough week for the Captains as the season begins to wind down. They had to slog through a double head and won just one of their seven games this week. Zach Plesac continued his comeback from Tommy John with encouraging results. He didn’t get the win put started and pitched 4 2/3 innings in the week’s only win for the Captains and allowed just a run on three hits and struck out three and walked one. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of his first 11 career appearances.

In that one win it was Justin Garza on the mound. He threw 4 1/3 shutout innings and stuck out six while allowing just two hits. Garza is also a Tommy John victim and has struggled this year. But the 2015 8th round pick has allowed just one run in his last three outings (12 1/3 innings) with 20 strikeouts three walks and eight hits. He has a 24/4 K-BB rate in August in 22 innings, maybe turning the corner in his comeback.

Mitch Longo only had five hits this past week but is still hitting .300 over his last 10 games. He has a .993 OPS in August and a .967 OPS on the year.

Alexis Pantoja picked up six hits this week and is slashing .333/.343/.439 in August. He started the month with a .219 average and is up to .243. He still not walking and has a bit of the Giovanny Urshela characteristic in his bat where he doesn’t walk or strikeout much but makes too much bad contact because of his bat control. But he does have the ability to be a solid hitter.

Connor Capel continues to be hot with five more hits and an August line of .333/.372/.644 line. Like Pantoja, this month has gone a long way to improving his season stats quickly. In the second half Capel owns and .873 OPS and is hitting .282 after a first half of .217 (.757 OPS).

Brady Aiken had probably his best start to date on Saturday (6 IP, 1ER, 6K, 3BB). It was a nice followup on his rocky outing Sunday (6 ER in 3 1/3 IP). He’ll end August with 18 Ks and 15 BB’s which doesn’t seem great but it’s only his second month this year where he’s struck out more than he walked. Little victories.

The Captains finish a roadtrip in South Bend and come home for a three game set with Lansing before heading on the road to wrap up the season.

Short-Season Mahoning Valley

by Caitlin Boron

The Scrappers have continued to force their way into the playoff picture taking sole possession of the NYPL Pinckney division after winning their last three games. Of the last ten, they’ve gone 7-3, putting them two games ahead of now second place West Virginia. They now have the second best record in the New York Penn League (36-26), with just over a week left of the regular season.

The strength of a team normally comes down to the bats, because without scoring runs, you can’t win. However, though the Scrappers offense has been very productive this season (271 runs scored), the pitching, both starting and relief, has been outstanding and has gotten better as the season progressed. Between guys Felix Tati, current strikeout leader (52 Ks, 9.0 K/9), and WHIP leader Gregori Vasquez (0.97 through 63.2 IP) starting, or southpaw Kyle Nelson, who sits with the second most saves on the team (3) and has struck out 18 over his last four appearances (8.2 IP, 18.83 K/9), and righty Jean Carlos Mejia, who hasn’t allowed a run to score since July 8th (0 earned runs scored through all eight games), the Scrappers have an arsenal made for the post season. Just a peek at what they could bring into the picture of the playoffs, and what this team has built since game one.

Also, on the topic of pitching, Indians starter Josh Tomlin made his first rehab start for the Scrappers on Friday night. Tomlin pitched 3.2 innings, gave up five runs (one earned) on eight hits and struck out four. Not as promising as most would of hoped for, however he was able to throw for 72% strikes (64-46) through the start.

In the coming week and a half, the Scrappers play three division teams, in hopes to increase the gap and break away from the pack for good. They’ll wrap up their series with West Virginia later today, and end the season with them on September 6th and 7th. Opening up the week, MV plays a doubleheader against Batavia, adding to their original 3-game series, and will see them again September 3rd-5th, and finally, they’ll face off one last time with State College heading into September.

AZL Indians

by Joe Coblitz

There’s just one week left on the schedule for the AZL Tribe and the season can’t end soon enough. It was another rough week for the youngest US based Indians team as they went 1-6, extending their current rough patch to two wins in their past 18 games.

As always, team performance is secondary to individual performance in the minors and there were some of note. First, last Saturday the AZL Indians played a double header and the finest pitcher on the team, Maiker Manzanillo, finally made his first start. Manzanillo had been used in extremely long relief all season and went five shut out innings with five strike outs, one walk and two hits in his first start. He now has a 2.45 ERA on the season with 37 strike outs and just five walks in 36.2 innings. He was back in the bullpen to pitch two innings of relief on Thursday.

Pitching in the second game of the double header was Anderson Polanco, a left handed starter who hadn’t pitched in a real game since last July. While he didn’t pitch well in that start and was even worse in his start on Wednesday, just getting on the mound again is a step in the right direction.

With a two hit game on Tuesday and a three hit game on Friday, Tyler Freeman continues to be the AZL Indians best player. He’s now hitting .316/.378/.447, incredibly outslugging even Henry Pujols despite having fewer doubles and home runs thanks to his great consistency. His defensive performance has steadily improved as well and it definitely appears the Indians have another solid short stop coming up in the system.

With an 8-20 record in the first half and a 4-18 second half so far, the AZL Indians remain in last place and were the first team eliminated from the play-offs.

DSL Indians

by Joe Coblitz

The Dominican Summer League is now over and, like their counterparts in Goodyear, neither Indians DSL team will continue into the play-offs. For the full squad, there was a bright spot to end the season as they won three in a row against their brethren, the Indians-Brewers to go 6-3 since last Saturday and finish the year 29-41.

Two players we have followed somewhat closely all season had interesting weeks as Marcos Gonzalez had hits in all but one game that he played in and finished the year hitting .276/.374/.324 with 31 walks to 28 strike outs and 14 steals to three times caught.

Yeffersson Yannuzzi didn’t have quite as nice of a week as he saw some of his numbers head back to Earth after two short starts. He finished the year with a 2.12 ERA and 51 strike outs in 51 innings, walking 37, but allowing just 33 hits. Wilton Sanchez, only recently added to the rotation, had a great week on the mound with three appearances including a start on Wednesday. In those appearances, he went nine innings, struck out 8 and allowed just one run on seven hits and three walks. He finished the year with a 2.29 ERA in 35.1 innings.

DSL Indians-Brewers

by Joe Coblitz

As could be expected since they played each other, the Indians-Brewers lost their last six to end the season and finished in last place in their division. This is no large surprise as it seemed both teams preferred to keep their big names on their main DSL team with only Makesiondon Kelkboom and Jahir Valera having seasons of note from the Indians side.

Both these players had as bad a week as any on the team as Kelkboom saw his line dip to .212/.288/.297 after a hot start to the season. It now seems that another season in the DSL is completely necessary, although it should be with the Indians primary DSL team with Marcos Gonzalez potentially in Goodyear next year. Valera earned a save with a perfect relief appearance last Saturday, but struggled in his final start of the year, allowing four runs (three earned) in 4.2 innings on Wednesday. While he did allow 7 hits, he didn’t walk a batter and struck out five. Valera had a 2.05 ERA over 48.1 innings for the season and should be in Goodyear next year.